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Jul 31 2013

The costs of action vs the costs of inaction on global warming

By our inability to prevent a global 2+°C warming, by virtue of there being very nearly 400 parts per million CO2 despite our scientists’ constant warnings to do whatever it takes to reduce that number to at least 350, we’re going to cost ourselves a hell of a lot of money. Both in the short term and in the long term.

Firstly, the Arctic is thawing. Within the Arctic is a time-bomb of methane gas that’s gonna cost us almost as much as the global economy.

“The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb,” said Gail Whiteman, an author of the report and professor of sustainability, management and climate change at the Rotterdam School of Management, part of Erasmus University.

“In the absence of climate-change mitigation measures, the model calculates that it would increase mean global climate impacts by $60 trillion,” said Chris Hope, a reader in policy modeling at the Cambridge Judge Business School, part of the University of Cambridge.

That approaches the value of the global economy, which was around $70 trillion last year.

The methane bomb is a one time event though, as it has a significantly different impact life span of 20-ish years, compared to CO2‘s 5 years in the atmosphere til it gets either taken up by biological processes or the ocean. The problem with CO2 is that while any individual molecule stays in the atmosphere for a few years, it also might return to the atmosphere after a stint in the ocean or in the trees. The individual molecules stick around for thousands of years compared to methane’s 20-ish, and we’re pumping out twice as much CO2 as the planet can apparently sink per year.

Plus, the repercussions of more CO2 in the oceans is acidification, which kills coral and marine life and could destroy the entire fishing industry and any culture that relies on it for food.

Global warming doesn’t just mean it’ll get warm and stay warm — it means there’s more energy in the system, so you have wilder weather swings. You’ll therefore see superstorms in all weather: tornadoes and hurricanes, blizzards and thunderstorms, floods and droughts. The more energy, the bigger and more frequent the energetic releases. And we all know how much damage each of those events can do, money-wise.

All of this, compared to the costs of finding a less carbon-heavy way of feeding ourselves, finding a less carbon-heavy way of powering our electrical gadgets and climate control systems and personal conveyance, and industry. It’s possible to beat this issue without all of us turning into cave-dwelling survival nuts, but we need to fix a lot of processes that are well and truly entrenched — and as far as I can tell, they’re only entrenched at this point because certain people are still making money off the carbon economy. A carbon economy the American government subsidizes heavily by giving huge kickbacks to the oil industry. How much is THAT costing us? How much would carbon really cost if not for the invisible hand of the marketplace sticking a heavy thumb on those scales?

When some climate denialist says it’s too expensive to do anything about CO2 emissions — show them these costs. The cost argument evaporates when you take into account how much inaction will cost.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Your Name's not Bruce?

    Yeah, but the cost is so many quarters in the future and will be paid for by other people. Why cut down profits for that?

    Yes, snark if that wasn’t obvious.

  2. 2
    Trebuchet

    No, my name isn’t Bruce. But your point (in #1) is exactly correct. Business today is all about short-term profit. Wall Street is obsessed with the next quarter’s bottom line and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the longer term.

  3. 3
    Your Name's not Bruce?

    I’m afraid that things will only turn around once those who are denying AGW or blocking efforts to mitigate its effects realize that they cannot insulate themselves from its effects, that there is no other planet they can go to to remain safe and comfortable. If these people only had the resources and policies of Lichtenstein or Swaziland to control and distort, things wouldn’t be so bad. At some point, these people will no longer be able to buy safety from changing temperatures or massive civil disruption. By then it will probably be much too late to prevent much harm.

    Surely this is an object lesson in the power of (ignorant, wealthy, influential) individuals in the course of shaping large scale events.

  4. 4
    Berthold Klein

    The world has spent trillions of units of money to “Control climate change” already and what has been the benefit? The CO2 levels have gone up but the global temperatures have gone down – there is a total disconnect between fantasy and reality. This author is full of crap.
    There is no credible experiment that proves that the Greenhouse gas effect exists!
    Man-made climate change is a frigging lie. Yes there is natural climate change caused by variations in Solar output and variations in the Earths orbit around the Sun.
    The astrophysicists are warning us that we are starting into a New Mini-ice age, we have had evidence of this over the last three to five years when you look at the number of deaths caused by people freezing in Europe,Russia, Asia, Australia, and South America
    There is an experiment that proves that the Greenhouse gas effect does not exist. This experiment which has been technologically reviewed by Ph. D physicists (at least 4). Ph. D. Chemical engineers (at least 2 at last count) and others Ph. D’s in other fields The experiment is found on the web-site http:// http://www.slayingtheskydragon.com click on the blog tab then on page 3 of 12. . It is titled “The Experiment that failed which can save the world trillions-Proving the greenhouse gas effect does not exist”

    The Greenhouse Effect Explored
    Written by Carl Brehmer | 26 May 2012
    Is “Water Vapor Feedback” Positive or Negative?
    Exploiting the medium of Youtube Carl Brehmer is drawing wider attention to a fascinating experiment he performed to test the climatic impacts of water in our atmosphere.
    Carl explains, “An essential element of the “greenhouse effect” hypothesis is the positive “water vapor feedback” hypothesis. That is, if something causes an increase in the temperature this will cause an increase in the evaporation of water into water vapor.”

    Another important website is www. The Great Climate Clash.com -G3 The Greenhouse gas effect does not exist.

  5. 5
    Jadehawk

    my (heritage foundation citing) economics textbook disagrees, claiming it’ll be about harmless shifts in agricultural patterns and increased AC use, offset by reduced heater use. Therefore pppbbbhhhtttt. (not kidding, that’s pretty much the anti-”alarmist” stance of the book from which my university teaches 100 and 200 level econ classes :-/ )

  6. 6
    Jadehawk

    I’m afraid that things will only turn around once those who are denying AGW or blocking efforts to mitigate its effects realize that they cannot insulate themselves from its effects

    considering the large chunk of the U.S. population that thinks the extreme weather-patters we’re seeing are part of the end times, I suspect it won’t happen. Add to that the pure selfishness of the wealthy types (quoting my banker cousin: “yeah, but that’ll be after I’m dead”), I don’t think we can count on the deniers to stop denying; ever.

  7. 7
    Your Name's not Bruce?

    Oh, right; I hadn’t thought about the “end times” angle bullshit.

    Fuck.

    We’re doomed.

  8. 8
    SallyStrange

    It’s a far cry from claiming that climate change is a result of natural variations and claiming that the greenhouse gas effect does not exist, Berthold Klein. Which is it? Most climate change denialists who want to maintain a veneer of respectability stick with the former. Only the truly raving loons go for denying the greenhouse effect itself, which has been accepting by scientists of all stripes, regardless of specialty, since the early 1900s.

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